The views are strikingly similar, from the way the small child with the beaming smile quickly impressed them, both as a player and person, to how they’ve followed Jeremy Johnson through the years.
There was the tot in his first year of youth football who, despite his quarterback credentials today, was an offensive center.
There was the shy child who was dominate in both football and basketball, just like he is today at G.W. Carver High (without the shyness).
They still watch from the stands, read stories, remember those beginnings and ponder what the future might hold for Johnson, who is scheduled to sign with Auburn on Wednesday.
“He still hasn’t gotten to 100 percent,” said Cedric Murrell, the defensive coach on Johnson’s first team, when Johnson was a 5-year-old center/outside linebacker/safety with a wide smile.
“He still has more to go.”
Johnson’s desire started before he could even don his first jersey, for the Fastrack team, where the shoulder pads practically swallowed him.
Jamel Johnson, Jeremy’s older brother by more than three years, had to deal with the little pest following him practically everywhere. For one of Jamel’s first teams, Jeremy was the “water boy.”
Jeremy wanted to play every backyard game with Jamel — at least until Jamel started winning.
“Then, he’d want to quit,” Jamel said. “When we were younger, I’d beat him all the time. I can’t do anything with him now.”
Jamel remembers going to play basketball at a friend’s apartment complex and Jeremy had to sit out. Jamel was about 7, so Jeremy was about 4.
By the end of Jamel’s game, Jeremy was in a nearby pond. His clothes were floating alongside him.
“He was buck naked,” Jamel said. “Of course, I got in trouble.”
Once Jeremy could play organized ball, he showed more than skin.
Because he was bigger than kids his age, plus dad Ojedita’s desire to push him, Jeremy played in leagues for those a year or two older. That first year, as Jamel put it, “was rough.”
“You had 6- and 7-year-old kids coming at me full speed,” Jeremy said. “I used to hide. I’d quit every day, but my dad wouldn’t let me quit.”
Being physical didn’t come naturally, in either football or basketball, to Jeremy.
The year as Fastrack’s center helped him overcome it in football. The next year, he settled in at quarterback and has stayed there.
In basketball, he quickly learned how to shoot from the outside, enough that he was reticent to do anything else because that could mean contact.
“It’s kind of funny,” said Cynthia Hardy, Johnson’s basketball coach when he was 7 and 8. “You couldn’t make Jeremy shoot a layup because he always wanted to shoot the 3.
“He’d make me so mad sometimes.”
There were a “couple of fussings,” Hardy said, and Johnson started developing his other skills. Today, he’s also an All-State basketball player for Carver.
“Jeremy’s biggest problem was he wouldn’t take the ball to the goal,” said Darryl “Quake” Whetstone, who coached Johnson at Smiley Court starting when Johnson was 9 years old.
“He was small and skinny, but he was taller than the rest of the kids I had.”
Johnson grew into his frame after reaching Carver and now measures 6-foot-6, 220 pounds. (“I never thought he’d be that big,” Hardy said. “He was so little.”)
Johnson turned into a three-year starter at Carver and led the Wolverines to the Class 6A semifinals last fall. Johnson became the first Carver player to be named the state’s Mr. Football.
“It surprised me, but, at the same time, it didn’t,” Murrell said. “We knew he had the potential to be a great player because he had the body and he had the smarts.
“All these years later, I’m so proud of everything he’s done, but I want him to do more. I want to see Jeremy succeed on the next level.”
Murrell is an Alabama fan. “I will pull for him as long as Alabama beats them by one,” he said.
In basketball, Johnson moved up to varsity at the end of his freshman year. He is a potential candidate for Mr. Basketball this season, too.
“He should be Mr. Basketball,” said Whetstone, who also coached Carver’s Craig Sword, last year’s Mr. Basketball.
“I love it,” Whetstone said. “To have Jeremy Johnson win Mr. Football was one of the most exciting things for me, and having Craig Sword win Mr. Basketball was the same way.
“For a little league coach to see two of his players do that, it’s a blessing.”
Johnson will have his family on hand Wednesday for his signing ceremony — 11:30 a.m. at Carver — and said he wishes there were more space available behind him. There isn’t enough for all those that deserve to be there.
“All the people that coached me were great people and they made me better,” Johnson said. “From them watching me as a baby until what I am now, they help me know how much I’ve grown.
“And I’m thankful for all of them.”